Source: Associated Press
BY Jim Gomez
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine court on Friday found 66 alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf guilty of kidnapping dozens of students, teachers and a Catholic priest in the south in 2000, in the largest single conviction involving the brutal Muslim militant group.
The Regional Trial Court branch 261 acquitted for lack of evidence 20 other people who have languished in jail for a number of years while insisting they were innocent in the brazen March 2000 kidnappings of 52 people, mostly young students at two schools on Basilan island.
Two kidnapped teachers were beheaded and a priest died while in Abu Sayyaf custody. The other hostages were rescued or freed after local officials negotiated for their release a few days after they were kidnapped en masse from the schools in the villages of Tumahubong and Sinangkapan.
The Abu Sayyaf — or Bearer of the Sword — has been listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. It was founded around the early 1990s in poor, predominantly Muslim Basilan province. An unwieldy collection of Islamic preachers and outlaws, it vowed to wage jihad, or holy war, but lost its key leaders early in combat, sending it on a violent path of extremism and criminality.